The Sun: Rising Threnody for Orchestra


The Sun: Rising was written in 1976 for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra as a tribute to my father, who had died earlier that year. Though it contains elements of reflection and drama, it is ultimately a song of praise for a man who greatly enriched the lives of both his family and his many friends and colleagues, and who personally gave me so much support on a practical as well as a spiritual level throughout my development as a musician and composer. After the first performance I was taken to task by some critics for the use of the word 'threnody' in the title - since a threnody is a song of mourning. But for me the mourning had also contained in it the positive dimensions of hope, rebirth and celebration. So the piece is really a journey of contrasts - from fear to strength, despair to hope, darkness to light, and death to resurrection.


Musically it is largely derived from my earlier Three Medieval Lyrics , which, through the poetry of Dunbar and others, treated various aspects of the subject of death. The three movements of the cantata are a prayer for peace, a troubled and dramatic scena about the fear of approaching death, and a final and triumphant re-affirmation of belief in the Resurrection. The same overall shape and moods are preserved in this work, though there are only direct thematic links in the fast central section.


The score is prefaced by a quotation from Dunbar's poem about the Resurrection:

The sun that grew all pale now shines bright,

And, darkness cleared, our faith is now reborn.


To echo this idea I have given the work a sense of continual growth, and an increasing feeling of hope and joy. The quiet opening presents most of the important thematic material, but soon gives way to the substantial fast central section, characterised by conflicting moods of fear, drama and lyricism. This builds to a violent climax in which a theme from the cantata, originally heard to the words 'Timor mortis conturbat me' (the fear of death terrifies m'), is reiterated against a background of brass fanfares. The final section returns briefly to the quiet mood of the opening, but develops into an increasingly positive statement of faith, culminating in a massive and triumphant conclusion.


The Sun: Rising was first performed at the Wembley Conference Centre in February 1977 by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Meredith Davies.


Christopher Brown 2011